Cultural wars hit suburban Chicago after protesters call ‘Gender Queer’ book in Downers Grove HS library ‘porn’

Attacks on literature on race and gender that have spread across the country in recent weeks found their way to a board meeting in the western suburbs of high school Monday night as conservative protesters and some parents protested the availability of a book on sexuality orientation and gender identity in the country. school library.

The graphic novel they were aiming for, “Gender Queer”, is one of several works that have come under fire nationwide as part of a greater movement of conservative politicians, activists, commentators and small networks of parents to condemn and prohibit progressive teaching in schools.

Some critics have argued that children were exposed to “homoerotic” or “pornographic” language and images. “Gender Queer” is an autobiography about the author Maia Kobabe’s journey in gender identity as a teenager and young adult. A few pages that include illustrations of sexual acts have drawn the bulk of the zeal, while other students, parents and members of the local community see the book as an important tool for young people who discover their identity and any effort to ban it as censorship. .

The opposition has turned school boards into battlegrounds for social deprivation, from books to COVID-19 protocols such as masking and vaccination to more recently mental and emotional health programs. In some cases, school board members have been threatened and needed police protection.

The Chicago area had largely avoided these dust-ups until Monday, when about 200 people were packed into an auditorium with police officers and security guards at Downers Grove North High School for the monthly meeting of the Community High School District 99 board.

About a third of the audience held “NO PORN” signs and posters with illustrations and excerpts from “Gender Queer”. The first hernia came at the beginning of the meeting – and a few more times over the next few hours – when board chairman Nancy Kupka repeatedly asked participants to put on masks. Moans and shouts also came as people realized that an American flag was not on display for the pledge of allegiance.

Members of the Proud Boys – a right-wing extremist neo-fascist group that has recently thrown itself over school board protests around the country – promoted the meeting on a messaging app commonly used by right-wing extremist activists, urging each other to attend, according to screenshots posted out on social media. It is unclear if any members of the group showed up.

The school board had no plans to discuss or vote on any items regarding the “Gender Queer” – the book was taken up exclusively during the public speaking portion of the meeting. Supt. Hank Thiele, who spoke on the subject before people shared their views, said that “Gender Queer” met the district’s requirements for inclusion in its library and that it was not part of any class’ required reading. Only one copy of the book is available for check-out at each library at Downers North and Downers South colleges, which together serve nearly 5,000 students.

But administrators will review the book again as two formal challenges have been filed, he said.

In the public speaking portion of the meeting, Thiele first called those who were Downers Grove residents before outsiders. Among the first group, which included several students, all but three speakers showed support for “Gender Queer.”

Downers Grove North students Josiah Poynter (left), Lauren Pierret (center) and Tabitha Irvin (right) were among those who spoke in favor of the book.

Downers Grove North students Josiah Poynter (left), Lauren Pierret (center) and Tabitha Irvin (right) were among those who spoke in favor of leaving the book “Gender Queer” in the school library.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Lauren Pierret, a 17-year-old senior in Downers Grove North, said she did not know “Gender Queer” existed until last week.

“This is not being forced on your children, but it is giving children who would be interested in this story a choice to read it,” she said.

Pierret also questioned why other books with sex scenes such as “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Angela’s Ashes” were available at the library, but were not subjected to the same criticism.

“Let’s not present getting rid of ‘Gender Queer’ as censoring our children from sex,” she told the school board. “It’s homophobia.”

Josiah Poynter, an 18-year-old senior at Downers North, said he understands “this novel has scenes in it that are, to say the least, mature and sexual, [but] it’s not like we’ve not had books with sex in before.

“Inclusion means something to young people,” he told the school board. “That’s why we need this book in our school library. Inclusion provides the opportunity to grow in a safe environment. It gives comfort to people who feel unresolved and excluded. “

Tabitha Irvin, a junior at Downers North, said she felt it was “ironic” that people wearing American flag masks, hats and shirts were at the meeting and called for a book to be banned as the issue in her opinion was about freedom of speech .

Linda Schranz, a longtime Downers Grove resident who said her daughter is a graduate of District 99, said “despite the noise in the community,” she believes it is a small minority who disagree with board policies.

Schranz volunteers with Youth Outlook, a suburban nonprofit organization that supports LGBTQ youth, and said she sees “Gender Queer” and similar books “as an opportunity for a child who might be exploring or questioning [their identity] to take a look and see more information. “

Terry Newsome, a resident of Darien who said he has a son and daughter in Downers South, said his concerns about “Gender Queer” are not homophobic. If the book was only about LGBTQ students coming out, “parents would not have a problem with it,” he said.

“The problem is … this is a liberal code to teach children to perform oral sex, anal sex, wear strap-on dildos,” he said. “These graphic images are completely unacceptable regardless of their gender or sexuality.

“It is not your right to decide whether our minor children should have access to pornography.”

Prior to the meeting, a father who asked not to be named said in an interview that he had seen YouTube videos about “Gender Queer” and said it was “sick” to have the book available to high school students, claiming that it “teaches children how to be gay.” One mother said she was there to protest “medical tyranny” while another parent reiterated a recent speech in Virginia’s gubernatorial race that parents do not know enough about the curriculum their children are taught.

The American Library Association recently honored “Gender Queer” as a text with “special appeal to young adults ages 12 to 18.” The book’s publisher says it’s suitable for high school teens.

Virginia’s largest school district removed “Gender Queer” from its high school libraries earlier this fall while considering parenting concerns, while a Florida district banned it altogether, and schools in New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington are among those who have heard challenges. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster told the state Department of Education last week to examine the book he considered “sexually explicit” and “pornographic.” Prohibition of books in schools prominent in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

Kobabe, the author of “Gender Queer,” wrote in a recent Washington Post-op oath addressing the backlash that the book was originally intended for Kobabe’s parents and extended family to help them understand what it meant to be non- binary. Then it became clear that queer teens could enjoy the related story.

“In high school, I had met several gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, but I did not meet an out trans or non-binary person until I was in high school,” Kobabe wrote. “The only place I had access to information and stories about transgender people was in the media – primarily in books.”

Protesters are holding signs with panels from “Gender Queer” at a board meeting at Downers Grove North High School on Monday.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

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